I just love learning new skills in the kitchen, don’t you? Some things are just darn handy to know how to do like how to fire roast pablano peppers in the kitchen over a gas stove (something I just did for the first time the other day). Or how to make homemade vanilla extract, for example. Most of my acquired culinary skills get lumped into the Pretty-Cool-And-Useful-Information category, but a few things, like learning to make mozzarella cheese, go into the Holy-Cow!-How-Did-I-Not-Know-How-To-Do-This-Before? category!
I have been tinkering with milk for a while and I find it to be one of the most intriguing ingredients to work with in the kitchen. I have turned countless gallons of milk and cream into cool things like Greek yogurt, frozen yogurt, labneh (yogurt cheese), ricotta cheese, cottage cheese and even crème fraîche. But lately I have had the itch to crank up my milk tinkering skills another notch. So I did a little research and discovered that mozzarella is one of the easier cheeses to make and requires almost no specialized equipment. In fact, I had almost everything I needed on hand except the rennet. Unfortunately none of the local specialty grocery stores or health foods stores carry rennet so I had to place an order from a cheese making supply company. Not a big deal and I received my order in a jiffy. (Note: Junket Rennet, which is carried by most grocery stores, is NOT the right stuff for making cheese.)
My first mozzarella attempt was a bit of a flop. Though I watched a few videos and read through various instructions on how to make it, I still wasn’t exactly sure what I was after while I walked through the steps. As a result I ended up with an overly dry and rather hard first batch of mozzarella. Also, the first recipe I tried called for the addition of calcium chloride (something I keep on hand to help prevent bottom end rot on my tomatoes), but it turns out that calcium chloride is unnecessary and I think may have factored in to my cheese becoming hard. Also, I think I overworked the cheese in the final stage and ended up removing too much of the whey. All in all, there were a number of things that I believe factored in to the failed first batch.
But I would not be deterred!
I found a video for Simple Mozzarella and used this method for the next batch. The result? Much, much better! The resulting cheese was perfect in texture and flavor. However, I ran into some problems with the consistency of the curd after the addition of the rennet. My curd had fallen completely apart and I wasn’t able to get the curd to the point that it could be cut. It took a while to separate the curds from the whey and I knew I didn’t have the right consistency. But I decided to press on anyway and thankfully I did because it worked out in the end. But I figured there had to be an easier way.
So for the next batch I decided to try a different recipe, which is very similar in methodology to the one used in the second batch, but with a few twists. My friend was so excited to know I had learned to make mozzarella that she wanted me to teach her how to make it as well. So she came over and her batch was the third attempt, and you know what they say. The third time is a charm! It turned out perfect! Plus, this final method cut out 20 minutes of the processing time that the 2nd method had required. Bonus! I have already made another batch using this method and once again it turned out perfect. Folks, I think we have a winner!
Here are some snapshot of what my mozzarella looked like along the way.
With the burner on medium-low I poured the milk into the pot.
I added the citric acid to the pot right away as the milk started to warm up. Here’s what the milk looked like immediately after the addition, nice and curdled. Yum!
Once the milk reached 90 degrees I added the diluted rennet stirred gently for 30 seconds. Then I turned off the heat, popped a lid on the pot, and set the timer for 5 minutes. (If you’re not working on a gas stove be sure to remove the pot from the burner at this point or it will continue to heat the milk.)
I missed snapping the photo of the cut curds, but I’ll try to remember to take it the next time so I can add it here. Essentially when you take off the lid after the 5 minutes have lapsed the milk should have sort of gelled together like really loose yogurt. Then, using a long knife cut the curds every inch making sure to go all the way to the bottom of the pot, then repeat across the pot in the other direction. You’ll have a grid-like pattern when you’re all done.
Once that was done I turned the heat back on to medium and gently stirred until the temperature reached 105 degrees. The curds started to clump together at this point. This is where it starts to get really exciting!
Next, using my super cool and most favorite slotted spoon of all time I picked up at Bed Bath and Beyond I scooped the curds into a microwave safe bowl. (Seriously, this spoon is a workhorse in my kitchen! Highly recommend!)
Plenty of whey will still make it into the bowl so you’ll have to dump the excess before microwaving the curds, but it’s pretty easy because the cheese is starting to form and goop together at this point.
I did not get any shots of me working the cheese after heating it in the microwave because working the curds took two hands and, well I am not an octopus. 🙂
But here’s what it looked like when I finished heating and stretching it. I was a little conservative with my stretching and kneeding the curds because I didn’t want to work out too much of the whey. The next time I might try working it a bit more to get it to a smoother consistency on the exterior for aesthetic reasons, but it tasted just perfect to me!
I found the instructions and background for making the mozzarella to be excellent so rather than reinvent the wheel and try to recreate them I’ll post the link here.
Though there are a number of steps involved and a wee bit of precision (chemistry, EEK!), making mozzarella is actually one of the easiest and fastest of the Holy-Cow!-How-Did-I-Not-Know-How-To-Do-This-Before? category things I have learned to make. Honest to Pete, just knowing I will be able to use my own homemade mozzarella on my weekly Margherita Pizza fix just blows my mind! And when the tomatoes are coming in in the garden by the bucket load I’ll never have a cheese shortage for my favo Caprese Salad.
So as I am still feeling the elation of the wildly successful mozzarella cheese making endeavor I am starting to feel another milk tinkering itch come on. I’ve just purchased The Complete Idiot’s Guide(r) to Cheese Making so I shall begin looking for my next culinary challenge to conquer! Queso Fresco perhaps? Or maybe even cheddar! Who knows, but bouyed by my mozzarella success you can bet my milk tinkering days have only just begun!
*Note: I have used both whole milk and 2% with perfect results! I’ll probably try using 1% at some point just to see if I can make a really low fat version. If you’ve made it with 1% or skim milk I’d love to hear about your results.